This blog was written by Yiqian Zhang, Sustainable Mobility Officer at ICLEI World Secretariat
Electrification has never been more prominent and relevant to the debate on the future of mobility. As the technology and market for electric buses become mature, it is emerging as a viable option for cities to improve air quality, reduce noise and decarbonize the transportation sector.
In May 2021, ICLEI’s Sustainable Mobility team organized a session on “Transitioning towards e-buses: Barriers and opportunities” at Autonomy Digital 2.0 – the international exhibition for sustainable mobility solutions, with representatives from the public and private sectors sharing their experience in accelerating the adoption of electric buses in their cities – Kathmandu (Nepal), Izmir (Turkey) and Gothenburg (Sweden). Reflecting learnings in different contexts, the consensus is clear: e-buses still present technological, financial, and institutional barriers and the transition to a full electric bus fleet requires an integrated introduction of a new ecosystem built around policy, infrastructure and financing. The question remains: how could cities plan the transition and pilot new buses to help transform mobility in support of sustainable development goals?
Building momentum: Izmir’s vision and targets on electric buses
City’s long-term visions are critical for realizing carbon neutrality targets and every electric mobility vision and goals should be articulated by clear and specific targets to measure progress. Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, the third-largest city in Turkey, is committed to a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. In Izmir, the transport sector accounts for 23 percent of its total emissions and 46 percent of the vehicles are diesel-powered, motivating the City to accelerate the transition to low-emission alternatives for municipal fleet and private cars.
Starting in 2017, 20 full electric buses are in operation after being tested at various routes and different times of the year. Charged using solar power, they demonstrate the first steps towards the electrification of public transport in the city with a commitment to add 500 e-buses by 2024. Its Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) has also set ambitious actions towards sustainable mobility: making 25% of the municipal fleet electric/hybrid, replacing 25% of ESHOT (the public bus company) fleet with new, fuel-efficient vehicles. Izmir Transportation Master Plan (UPI 2030) has also set targets to improve the use of public transport and active mobility including increasing the number of electrically powered vehicles.
More than just electrifying buses: Kathmandu’s e-mobility ecosystem
Shifting to an electric bus fleet system is much more than purchasing new vehicles. Its implementation requires a suitable policy and regulatory framework to stimulate the market, set incentives and support the provision of charging infrastructure, space and services. As a rapidly-growing capital in Nepal, Kathmandu is taking steps to address unprecedented levels of motorization that are causing air pollution and health impacts. As part of the SOLUTIONSplus, the City’s public transport operator Sajha Yatayat is working with partners to create an e-mobility ecosystem by demonstrating different electric vehicles (e.g. e-buses, remodeled e-3-wheelers, e-shuttle van, e-micro bus) to enhance public transport, as well as suitable charging solutions and related services.
A lack of understanding of the technology and its ecosystem is often behind many of the barriers to the take-up of e-mobility. How reliable is the battery? What is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of e-buses? And what are the local lifecycle impacts beyond emission mitigation? As such, awareness-raising activities will be organized to address any concerns of the stakeholders. While leveraging on the energy transition to encourage uptake of renewables in electrification, Kathmandu is also planning to introduce an electronic payment system, and improve smart services for fleet management. Such pilot projects provide great opportunities to test innovative solutions and build the local capacity to make the case for the rollout of e-mobility.
Collaboration is key in enabling faster transition: the ElectriCity project
City policies are complemented by concrete company actions. In the City of Gothenburg, Sweden, 145 electric buses are in operation on a total of 34 routes in and around the city – quiet, exhaust-free, and passenger-friendly. It will electrify all city buses by 2030. How is Gothenburg scaling up the roll-out of e-buses? Its success can be attributed to the ambitious vision and goals, coherent policy, and robust implementation with close collaboration with partners from industry and academia. Through the collaborative ElectriCity project, Volvo helps realize innovative solutions and the electricity supplier Göteborg Energi ensures the right capacity of the electricity grid. In parallel, the public transport operator Transdev has the responsibility of employee training and the City of Gothenburg provides land for depots and space for charging stations.
To sum up, while many cities and companies worldwide are pinning their hopes on electric and alternative fuel vehicles, a systematic and collaborative approach is a central element to harnessing its benefits while supporting the broader transformation to sustainable mobility.
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